When I was growing up, we didn’t have much money. Okay, that might not be quite accurate, because if you looked up the term “dirt poor” in a dictionary, you’d see our family picture. We moved around a lot, living in many less-than-desirable houses, one of which had a big red X on the side. You know the kind—to be demolished by the city, pretty much advertising to the whole world that poor people lived there.
In that little house, I had my first best friend. She was Mexican. A very dark-skinned Mexican. We used to sit on the broken front porch and talk. For some reason, she would always get bitten by mosquitoes. They never seemed to bother me. She had a child’s perfect explanation for the phenomenon. She said, “They like me because I taste like chocolate.” I was jealous, since I’m a lily-white vanilla, easily prone to sunburn person, and I much preferred chocolate. (Still do!) But, it never crossed my mind there was any ethnic difference between us. I just knew she was my best friend.
My father didn’t hold down many “real” jobs, and we moved from place to place. My mother managed to hold things together by sewing, and one of the women for whom she sewed clothes lived next door. That woman, whose name I don’t remember, changed my life.
I remember one time she brought over pinto beans, which was pretty much all we had in the house to eat. On the surface it’s not too strange for a neighbor to bring food if they know there’s a need. What is strange is who she was. She was black, although in the 50s, she would have been called “colored” where I came from. So, an elderly black lady was bringing food to poor white folks. How unusual.
It would be years before Martin Luther King would make his famous “I have a dream” speech. “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” I have no clue whether our friend was the daughter of a former slave, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the daughter of former slave owners, and this was Arizona, not Georgia. But, the concept remains the same. In a time when blacks and whites just didn’t socialize, in our little corner of the world, we did.
I remember as a small child in Oklahoma, we went into a department store. There were two drinking fountains, one labeled “colored”, and one labeled “white.” I, of course, went to the colored one. I mean, what child wouldn’t want to drink pink water? I had no clue what the words meant, but my mom did. She was mortified, and quickly dragged me away. I’m not positive I ever understood what she was trying to explain. All I knew was I had to drink the clear water. Bummer. I’m pretty sure the other fountain would have tasted better.
You hear so much about divisiveness in America today. How races don’t get along. How Dr. King’s dream has never come true. I just don’t understand that. Our granddaughters and great-granddaughters are black, as is their mother, our adopted daughter. I love our beautiful family with all my heart. So how can there be divisiveness? I know we’re not the only people in America that love for love’s sake, and not because of the color of someone’s skin.
I could look around church and see people of every color worshipping together. Where I worked, virtually every nationality was represented. In our cul-de-sac, there are 6 houses. At different times, there were whites, blacks, Hispanics, Guamanians, Germans, and we all looked out for each other. So where is all this animosity they talk about?
If you look hard enough, you’ll find it. You can find whites who hate blacks, as you’ll find blacks who hate whites. Or Chinese, or Italian, or Polish, or Arab, or pretty much any nationality you want. They’re the ones who get all the press on the evening news. After all, how much of a story would it be if the national news spotlighted a black lady taking beans to white neighbors? I can hear TV channels being changed even as I write this, probably to another channel where the story would be about another hate crime, or how America is rampant with bigotry. But, that’s not the real America.
Our kind neighbor unintentionally taught me the most valuable lesson of my life…that love is color blind. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, whether chocolate or vanilla, underneath we are alike. I’ve wished many times I could find her and thank her. In my distorted view of the world, she was ancient, so I’m sure she’s no longer with us, but her simple act has been repaid numerous times.
So how do we change the perception? I’m not sure we can. I think most people just do what I do, shake their heads at the stories and wonder what the world is coming to. We go about our lives, trying to do as God instructed, doing unto others without making a big deal out of it, or thinking about the other person’s ethnicity.
What we need is a roving reporter who reports on the good stuff. After all, what is a one-minute story out of a half-hour’s newscast? No time at all, in the overall scheme of things. Something that brings America together instead of tearing America apart. Seems to me like it would be well worth the time involved.
Maybe I’ll start a network write-in campaign until someone gets tired of getting all those letters from me and caves. If that ever does happen, I know who I’ll nominate. I’ll nominate my childhood neighbor. The one who taught me that love is indeed color blind. Maybe then people will start to listen to the silent majority, instead of feeling defeated by the very loud minority. And maybe then, just maybe, America will know that a lot of Dr. King’s dream has been realized for a long time, except no one knows. That’s my dream.
Well worth rereading, you can find Dr. King’s speech here: https://www.archives.gov/files/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf